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Agesilaus II

Agesilaus II

Agesilaus II (ca. 444-360 B.C.), a Spartan king and general, dominated Spartan politics. Through military might he made his state supreme in Greece by about 380 B.C.

Agesilaus was a son of the Spartan king Archidamus II. Agesilaus was not in the direct line of succession after his elder brother King Agis II died, but the powerful military commander Lysander contrived to have Agis's son disqualified as a bastard fathered by Alcibiades and engineered Agesilaus's election as king about 399. Lysander hoped to exploit the lame and inexperienced Agesilaus, but the new king asserted his power and dismissed Lysander from service.

Agesilaus's first command was in Asia Minor against the Persians in 396-394. He failed to gain any permanent advantage but amassed a huge amount of booty. Meanwhile Sparta's supremacy in Greece was broken by the states in central Greece. Lysander was killed in Boeotia, and the other of Sparta's dual kings, Pausanias, was banished for incompetence in the face of the enemy. Agesilaus was recalled from the field and marched his army homeward. He broke through the enemy lines at Coronea, where he was wounded, and reached Sparta well laden with loot. Agesilaus thus became in effect sole king, and he dominated the politics of Sparta until his death.

From 394 to 388 Agesilaus tried in vain to break a stalemate with the states of central Greece, which held the Isthmus of Corinth. He therefore entered into an alliance with Persia and negotiated a general peace with Persian backing in 386. Thebes alone remained independent; Agesilaus mustered his troops and subdued Thebes.

The King's Peace, as it was called, was a triumph for Persia and restored Sparta's supremacy. Agesilaus, however, failed to reform Sparta's ways and in particular to offset its dwindling population. He enforced Sparta's rule in Greece by ruthless methods, which appealed to the militarist strain in the Spartan character, and between 385 and 379 he subdued Mantinea, Phlius, Thebes, and the Chalcidian League. Sparta now dominated the Greek world, with Persia in the east and Syracuse in the west as allies.

The tide turned in 379-378. Thebes broke away from Spartan dominance. Athens followed Thebes into a coalition when a Spartan officer, Sphodrias, made an unsuccessful treacherous attack on Athens in time of peace and Agesilaus shielded him from the consequences. Saddled with a war against Thebes and Athens, Agesilaus invaded Boeotia in 378 and 377 but achieved nothing. In 376 he became ill, and his coruler at the time, Cleombrotus, failed to invade Boeotia. Thebes resurrected the Boeotian League, and Athens formed a maritime coalition. In 371 a new King's Peace was made, but Agesilaus again broke it. This time Epaminondas, the Theban commander, was not intimidated. A Spartan army under Cleombrotus invaded Boeotia and was decisively defeated by Epaminondas; Sparta's empire collapsed. The old king Agesilaus organized Sparta's defenses in 370 and again in 362. He led a Spartan force fighting the Persians in Egypt in 361 and died at sea while returning.

Further Reading

Ancient sources on Agesilaus II are Xenophon's Agesilaus and Hellenica; "Life of Agesilaus" in Plutarch's Lives; and "Agesilaus" in The Lives of Cornelius Nepos. Modern works which discuss Agesilaus II include J. B. Bury, A History of Greece to the Death of Alexander the Great (1900; 3d rev. ed. 1951); M.L.W. Laistner, A History of the Greek World from 479 to 323 B.C. (1936; 3d rev. ed. 1957); N.G.L. Hammond, A History of Greece to 322 B.C. (1959; 2d ed. 1967); and A. H. M. Jones, Sparta (1967).

Additional Sources

Cartledge, Paul., Agesilaos and the crisis of Sparta, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987. □

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Agesilaus II

Agesilaus II (əjĕ´sĬlā´əs), c.444–360 BC, king of Sparta. After the death of Agis I (398? BC), he was brought to power by Lysander, whom he promptly ignored. After the Peloponnesian War the Greek cities in Asia Minor had not been ceded to Persia despite Sparta's promises, and in 396 BC Agesilaus went there to oppose the Persian satraps Tissaphernes and Pharnabazus by attacking them. He managed to rout Tissaphernes, but Persian naval power drove him back to Greece, where he won (394 BC) a hollow victory over the Thebans and their allies at Coronea, but he could not reestablish Spartan hegemony. By the King's Peace (or Peace of Antalcidas) in 386 BC, the cities of Asia Minor were ceded to Persia. Thebes and Athens entered an alliance against Sparta, and war followed. When Agesilaus deliberately excluded Thebes from the peace talks, Thebes renewed the war and the Theban general Epaminondas won (371 BC) a resounding victory at Leuctra. Sparta did not recover. Agesilaus took Spartan mercenaries to Asia Minor and Egypt and died on the way back. His rule had seen the ruin of Sparta, although he was lauded by his contemporaries, notably Xenophon.

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Lysander

Lysander (d.395 bc) Spartan general. He was responsible for the victory over Athens during the Peloponnesian War (429–404 bc), defeating the Athenian fleet in 406 and 405 and obtaining Persian support for Sparta. He forfeited his popularity by establishing oligarchies under a Spartan governor in cities he liberated from Athens, and lost influence in Sparta after the accession of King Agesilaus II in 399 bc.

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